Geronimo ji-Jaga, also known as Geronimo Pratt, passed away on June 2, 2011 at the age of 63. He was known in most circles as Geronimo Pratt a high ranking member of the Black Panther Party but actually changed his name to Geronimo ji-Jada in 1968. In an interview with Tavis Smiley (see video below), ji-Jada talks about his name change and the meaning of the name.
Geronimo ji-Jaga was arrested and convicted for the murder of Caroline Olsen, a young woman whose death occurred 350 miles away from where ji-Jada was at the time of the murder. Olsen, a 27 yr old teacher, and her husband were shot during a robbery in Santa Monica.
Olsen’s husband, Kenneth, survived the shooting and initially identified another man as the shooter. But this information did not help Mr. Pratt (the name used during the trial).
A factor that lead to his conviction, according to reports that came out during the second trial, was that the Federal Bureau of Investigation targeted him in a COINTELPRO operation, which aimed to “neutralize Pratt as an effective Black Panther Party functionary.”
The story of Geronimo Pratt’s conviction and imprisonment was chronicled by journalist and author Jack Olsen who believed that what happened to Geronimo Pratt was a textbook case of abuse of the American criminal justice system for political ends.
After serving two distinguished stints in Vietnam and earning a Purple Heart, Pratt returned to the States and entered college on the G.I. Bill. While in college he became a leader of the Black Panthers in Los Angeles. It was then that he was targeted by the FBI’s counterintelligence program which lead to him being set up and convicted for the highly publicized 1968 Santa Monica murder.
Famed attorney, Johnnie Cochran defended ji-Jaga in the original trial back in 1970 but due to key evidence being repressed, ji-Jaga was ultimately convicted and spent 27 years in prison, eight of which were in solitary confinement. He was freed in 1997 when his conviction was vacated. He was working as a human rights activist up until the time of his death.
He passed away after suffering a heart attack in his adopted country, Tanzania, on June 2, 2011.